Miles Sanders Has Top-5 Potential in Fantasy Football

Not every NFL rookie fires right away. There are many reasons why this is the case. Maybe a preseason injury hampered their progress? Maybe they were stuck behind a veteran whose seniority meant they saw more work? Maybe they, and their team, were just making sure they had their NFL legs under them.

Miles Sanders of the Philadelphia Eagles didn't come out of the gate hot in 2019, but he certainly finished his rookie campaign with a host of impressive performances. He looks set to carry this form into his sophomore season, and that makes him a name fantasy owners need to be aware of.

Learning the Ropes

At the start of the 2019 season, Sanders found himself behind veteran running back Jordan Howard, who the Eagles acquired via trade from the Chicago Bears. In his first nine games of the season, Sanders didn't play more than 55.7% of the Eagles snaps in a single game. He was able to flash occasionally, notably with 126 yards from scrimmage in a Week 3 loss to the Detroit Lions and 118 in the Eagles road victory over the Buffalo Bills in Week 8. But even then, his yards came from just six total touches.

All told, between Week 1 and 9 Sanders had 336 rushing yards on 76 attempts with one touchdown, as well as another 305 yards and another score through the air on 22 receptions.

Sanders's lack of monster production was twinned with almost gross inefficiency. He averaged a woeful -0.07 Rushing Net Expected Points (NEP) per play, while his Success Rate - which measures the number of plays that produce positive NEP - was 36.78%. All in all, not great. But then, something clicked.

Seizing his Chance

After Howard was lost for the rest of the season with a shoulder injury, Sanders was thrust into a larger role in the Eagles offense. Between Week 11 and the end of the season, Sanders played an average of 71% of the Eagles offensive snaps.

With his increased opportunities came an increase in production. Sanders rushed 103 times for 482 yards and two touchdowns, while also reeling in 28 of his 36 targets for another 204 yards. He scored twice more through the air.

These numbers boosted Sanders's fantasy output considerably, as he posted the eighth-most fantasy points among all running backs in the seasons closing seven weeks. The splits for Sanders with Howard and without are most encouraging.

With Jordan Howard Without Jordan Howard
Games 9 7
Rush Atts 8.4 14.7
Rush Yds 37.3 68.9
Rush TDs 0.11 0.29
Targets 3 5.1
Recs 2.4 4
Rec Yds 33.9 29.1
Rec TDs 0.11 0.29
PPR 10.9 17.23

276 PPR points, the tally Sanders's second half of the season projected out to, would have good for RB7 in 2019.

But while he saw an increase in opportunity and volume, Sanders was also able to increase his efficiency. His Rushing NEP jumped to 0.06, which would have been good for the 11th best among all backs for the season. Sanders also saw his success rate increase from 36.78% to 46.96%.

Looking Ahead

After such a strong end to the 2019 season, hopes are high for Sanders going into 2020. His ADP over at the FFPC, is currently as the RB8, going off the board towards the end of the first round. Our editor in chief JJ Zachariason has Sanders projected to finish as the RB10. There are some concerns about Sanders heading into the season, though.

There is a popular narrative that Eagles coach Doug Pederson favors running back by committee and that Sanders will not be able to command a full workload in the Eagles backfield. This evidence is backed up by the fact that no Eagles running back has topped 179 carries in a season since Pederson arrived in 2016.

For all his production in the second half of the season, Sanders commanded a 56% share of the Eagles rushing attempts, which was the 13th highest among all running backs in that time. Still good, just not elite. But it should be noted that this number was affected by two games (both against the New York Giants, oddly) where Sanders only played 54.9% and 32.4% of the snaps.

The Eagles also have not made any significant additions to their backfield, either through free agency or the draft. Howard is also gone after he signed with the Miami Dolphins in free agency. This means that the committee Sanders will be apart of currently consists of him, Boston Scott, and Corey Clement. The per-game numbers of these three, suggest only one of them can handle a large workload, however.

Miles SandersBoston ScottCorey Clement
Rush Atts11.27.65.7
Rush Yds51.130.623.4
Rush YPC4.644.1
Rec Yds31.825.512.6

Pederson's RBBC mindsight may have been borne out of necessity, given the lack of a true three-down back on his rosters. The Eagles leading rushers in terms of carries during the Pederson reign have been Ryan Mathews, LeGarrette Blount, and Josh Adams.

The Eagles' use of Sanders in the latter stages of the 2019 season would suggest that Pederson may feel this is no longer the case. After all, the Eagles running back with the most single-season carries since 2016 previously mentioned? That WAS Miles Sanders.

Sanders may see a dip in his receiving work, however. Pass catcher is an area the Eagles aggressively looked to bolster this offseason. They acquired Marquise Goodwin in a trade with the San Francisco 49ers. They also spent three draft picks on Jalen Reagor, John Hightower, and Quez Watkins. Even with this loss, Sanders should not struggle for work both on the ground and through the air. Eagles beat writers believe that Sanders should handle between 15-18 touches a game. This was pretty much what he was doing at the end of the 2019 season.

The Eagles have been linked with several veteran backs in recent weeks, notably Devonta Freeman and the team's all-time leading rusher LeSean McCoy. But these are likely to be brought in to spell Sanders, not compete for with him.

While Sanders is unlikely to challenge for MVP honors, despite his strong claims to the contrary, fantasy owners are unlikely to be disappointed with him in 2020. With more and more running backs going earlier and earlier in fantasy drafts, he will be a selection at the end of the first round that will make your time Miles better than the rest...I'm sorry, I couldn't resist that one.